The Marketing Society’s Brave Conference, like all Marketing Society conferences, did not disappoint. I have found every one to have the right mix of impact, inspiration, and application.
Ever since my early days as a Marketer and then Agency “suit”, the ”be brave” rally cry has been loud. Yet while most agree and aspire to be brave, (too many) years later, there seems to be general acknowledgement that there are still too few examples of bravery in Marketing. Andrew Clarke (Mars) stated “80% of CEO’s are unimpressed with their CMO”. It means Marketers really are starting on the back foot in being able to convince the board to be brave and take bigger risks. Little surprise bravery is rare.
The speakers were outstanding. I was inspired by their bravery and motivated to continue to help cultivate the conditions for bravery in my world.
Here are some of the key things I heard…and what it meant to me.
Will Dean (Tough Mudder) reminded us no one likes being judged.
He said, with humility and modesty, that it may have been easier to be brave because he was younger when creating Tough Mudder and had less to lose, vs later in life when you may have kids and a mortgage. However, he still had to overcome the universal fear (sans Buddhists), of judgement and potential loss of reputation, which for some can seem worse than financial loss. He also said “It’s not about overcoming fear, but learning to manage it”.
He went on to say “Originality is the goal, but by definition if it’s original it’s not proven”.
If there is no existing model to refer to, it naturally invites skepticism, but “knowing when to tune out nay-saying experts” he said was also important. “If someone disagrees with me, should I feel like apologizing”.
Great strategy comes from knowing the right questions and Siegel+Gale's Margaret Molloy reminded us that bravery starts with asking uncomfortable questions. From my experience working in different countries and cultures, that is not easy.
I’ve had a leg up attributing being an Aussie for my straight talk, but learning how to ask the uncomfortable questions is key.
I have found it helps when the audience knows your motivation is “pure”, because you care, rather than being contrarian for the sake of it.
Michelle Froah (Samsung) demonstrated the bravery of comparative advertising and the art of doing it with a smile vs a hammer.
Will Dean highlighted when starting out, the importance to test things to assess risk, saying most business ideas rest on 2 or 3 assumptions. Andrew Clarke (Mars) also highlighted how important research is in reducing risk.
Taking a longer-term brand-building approach is (sadly) becoming a brave move, with short-term activations dominating, despite evidence showing they are less effective in building longer term profitable growth. Andrew Clarke (Mars) said when he sees evidence of short-termism, he challenges his team to build on the brand’s platform.
To help encourage bravery and reduce the fear of failure, criticism, or even losing your job, a CMO I used to work with embedded the “learning agenda” into the Marketing department ethos and was an integral part of the brand plan. It framed the assessment of Marketing initiatives in a less judgmental, more curious, objective, and strategic way.
I was very moved by Elissa Montani (GMRF) and Madonna Badger’s (Badger & Winters) presentations.
Both were inspiring examples of what conviction can do in creating lasting substantive change for the good of all.
I especially found inspiring how first managing their challenging life circumstances demonstrated huge bravery right from the start.
For many of us the first challenge in being brave is managing our inner doubting or critical mind.
By Paul Spriggs, President, System1 Agency Americas (New York)
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